Each week we also spend time sharing our insights, experiences, our joys, our difficulties and questions relating to the practice of mindfulness. We practice deep listening (without reacting, judging or offering advice) while others are speaking, helping create a calm and receptive environment. By learning to speak out about our happiness and our difficulties in the practice, we contribute to the collective insight and understanding of the Sangha. We base our sharings on our own experiences of the practice rather than abstract ideas and theoretical topics. Sitting, listening and sharing together, we recognize our true connections with one another. All that is shared during the discussion time is confidential and we recognize that those who share during discussion time may not want to continue the discussion outside of the formal discussion circle.
Guidelines for the Practice of Dharma Sharing
Practice deep listening and loving, mindful speech.
Even though we have the intention to listen deeply, our mind will wander. Perhaps we are agreeing, disagreeing, feeling agitated, wanting to respond, or drifting. If we are mindful of our thoughts and inner dialog, we can choose to come back to being present with the person speaking.
It is best to avoid discussions that are theoretical. Instead, we speak from the heart about topics that emanate from our life and practice. This involves speaking with awareness in a way that could be of benefit to others as well as ourselves; speaking with kindness, in a voice that is clear and loud enough for everyone to hear; connecting with others by making eye contact; and perhaps smiling from time to time. We all benefit from hearing each other’s insights and direct experience of the practice.
It is good for the atmosphere of the Dharma sharing for participants to take three breaths before speaking to allow time for the previous person’s speaking to be fully received.
Before speaking we may wish to make a flower with our hands and bow. When we bow, we are signaling that we would like to share. The Sangha bows back, acknowledging that we are ready to listen deeply. When we are finished we let the Sangha know by bowing again. Knowing that we will not be interrupted creates a safe and harmonious environment.
Avoid giving advice, even if it is asked for.
In general it is helpful to always use the word “I” instead of the word “you.” Speaking from our own experience eliminates the opportunity to give advice. If someone asks for advice and a practice that we have worked with comes to mind it is fine to share our experience.
All that arises is confidential
“What is said here stays here.” Confidentiality secures the safety of the group and helps avoid gossip. Also, after the Dharma Sharing time, if we want to talk with someone about what they said in the group, we first ask if it is okay. Sometimes a person does want to talk more about what they said and this is a respectful way to honor that.
We are encouraged to speak mindfully, “not too much and not too little” for the number of participants. This ensures that everyone can speak and provides a space where we can benefit from all of our Sangha wisdom. Near the end of the time the facilitator may offer an opportunity for those who have not spoken to do so if they wish and may address any unanswered questions.
Share with the whole circle
Whatever we share is for the benefit of all those present. We do not engage in cross-talk with another participant. If we ask a question we ask the whole group and if we answer a question we speak to the whole group and not just the person who asked. If we ask a question we should not expect an answer straight away. Another topic may be addressed first and only when someone feels ready will the question be addressed. However, if towards the end of the sharing, the question has not been addressed the facilitator will do so to the best of his/her ability.
We might invite the bell now and then for us to pause and create space especially when intense feelings arise (judgment of self or others, frustration, impatience, exclusion, anger, etc.). This can be done at the outset of a sharing or spontaneously as needed.
Invoking the Name of Avolokiteshvara
“We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara. We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand. We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and open-heartedness. We will sit and listen without any prejudice. We will sit and listen without judging or reacting. We will sit and listen in order to understand. We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid. We know that just by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.”